Spanish Prime Minister works on new state of emergency to curb COVID-19

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Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called a cabinet meeting on Sunday to prepare for a new state of emergency to stem the surge in coronavirus infections, a move that could impose curfews and other restrictions across the country.Sanchez’s government said on Saturday evening that a majority of Spain’s regional leaders had agreed to a new state of emergency and that Sunday’s meeting was to consider the terms.

The state of emergency gives the national government extraordinary powers, including the possibility of temporarily restricting fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Spanish constitution such as the right to free movement.

The Spanish government has already declared two states of emergency during the pandemic. The first was declared in March to enforce strict home lockdown across the country, shut down shops and recruit private industry to the national fight for public health. It was lifted in June after ruling the rate of contagion and saving hospitals from collapse.

The second went into effect for two weeks in Madrid to force reluctant regional leaders in the capital to impose travel limits on residents in a bid to slow an outbreak in which new infections were growing exponentially. This lasted until Saturday.

Spain’s Health Minister Salvador Illa said his agency and regional health officials were studying how to enforce nighttime curfews, perhaps like the 9 p.m. curfew already in place in major cities across France.

The state of emergency would make it easier for authorities to take swift action, avoiding having to have most restrictions approved by a judge. Some judges have rejected efforts to limit travel in certain areas, causing confusion among the public.

Government officials at all levels are reluctant to impose another full home lockdown and industry shutdown, given the weakened state of Spain’s economy, which has plunged into a recession and seen its unemployment rates skyrocket in recent months.

A masked woman walks past a closed bar in Pamplona, ​​Spain on October 22 after the local government in Navarre restricted all non-essential movement in and out of the region for two weeks. (Vincent West / Reuters)

Spain this week became the first European country to exceed one million officially recorded COVID-19 cases. But Sanchez admitted in a nationally televised address on Friday that the actual figure could be over 3 million, due to shortcomings in testing and other factors.

Spain reported nearly 20,000 new daily cases and 231 additional deaths on Friday, bringing the country’s death toll from the pandemic to 34,752.

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